The Corrbolg -The Enfleshed Lore of the Gods in a Druid's hand.

The “Corrbolg,” better known as its English translation -"the Crane-bag," has become an icon of Druidry. As an object which belongs to a god but gifted to humanity, it is steeped in Celtic legend and lore.

In Irish mythology, Aoife, daughter of Daelbeth, and Luchra, daughter of Abhartach, both fell in love with Illbreac, who was a son of the great Sea God, Manannán mac Lir. Illbreac only had eyes for the beautiful Aoife, however.

In a fit of jealous rage, Luchra turned Aoife into a crane, whereupon she flew to the lands of Manannán and lived there for two hundred years. When she died, Manannán was so sad, he used her feathery skin to make the crane-skin bag in which he kept all his magical treasures.
Manannán carried many of his possessions in his crane bag: language, birds, hounds and very magical pigs. Any pig that was slaughtered for eating would magically appear in his crane bag again the next day!

This same bag later appears in the possession of Cumhall, father of the legendary Irish hero Fionn mac Cumhall. Cumhall was killed by Goll mac Morna, and the crane skin bag was stolen and given into the care of Lia, chieftain of Luachar in the province of Connacht.

Thus, it became a priority undertaken by Fionn as an adult was to avenge his father’s death; he killed Lia and retrieved the treasured crane-skin bag, returning it to his uncle for safekeeping.

This lore has intrigued people for centuries to come. The Duanaire Finn (Fionn's Poem Book) was written by the scribe Aodh Ó Dochartaigh over a period of 365 days from the seventh of August 1626 to the sixth of August 1627. Within it is written an exquisite poem regarding the Corrbolg (crane-bag) and some of its contents. Below is a translation by Eoin MacNeill.1

“I have a question for thee, Caoilte, man of the interchanged weapons: to whom did the good Crane-bag belong that Cumhall son of Treanmhor had?

A crane that belonged to gentle Manannán — it was a treasure of power with many virtues — from its skin, strange thing to prize — from it was made the Crane-bag.

Tell us what was the crane, my Caoilte of many exploits, or, tell us, man, why its skin was put about the treasures.

Aoife, daughter of dear Dealbhaoth, sweetheart of Ilbhreac of many beauties — both she and luchra of comely hue fell in love with the man.

Luchra, enraged, beguiled Aoife to come swimming, it was no happy visit: when she drove her fiercely forth in the form of a crane over the moorlands.

Aoife then demanded of the beautiful daughter of Abhartach: ‘How long am I to be in this form, woman, beautiful breast-white luchra?’

‘The term I will fix will not be short for thee, Aoife of the slow-glancing eyes: thou shalt be two hundred white years in the noble house of Manannán.

‘Thou shalt be always in that house with everyone mocking thee, a crane that does not visit every land: thou shalt not reach any land.

‘A good vessel of treasures will be made of thy skin — no small event: its name shall be — I do not lie — in distant times the Crane-bag.’

Manannán made this of the skin when she died: afterwards in truth it held every precious thing he had.

The shirt of Manannán and his knife, and Goibhne’s girdle, altogether: a smith’s hook from the fierce man: were treasures that the Crane-bag held.

The King of Scotland’s shears full sure, and the King of Lochlainn’s helmet, these were in it to be told of, and the bones of Asal’s swine.

A girdle of the great whale’s back was in the shapely Crane-bag: I will tell thee without harm, it used to be carried in it.

When the sea was full, its treasures were visible in its middle: when the fierce sea was in ebb, the Crane-bag in turn was empty.

There thou hast it, noble Oisin, how this thing itself was made: and now I shall tell its faring, its happenings.

Long time the Crane-bag belonged to heroic Lugh Long-arm: till at last the king was slain by the sons of Cearmaid Honey-mouth.

To them next the Crane-bag belonged after him, till the three, though active, fell by the great sons of Mile.

Manannán came without weariness, carried off the Crane-bag again; he showed it to no man till the time of Conaire came.

Comely Conaire slept on the side of Tara of the plains: when the cunning well-made man awoke, the Crane-bag was found about his neck. Etc.”

There is much speculation regarding the contents within Manannán's Corrbolg. The personal items included are his knife, shirt, the king of Scotland's shears, the king of Lochlainn's helmet, the bones of Assal's swine, and the girdle of the great whale's back.

The british poet and classicist Robert Graves in his book "The Crane Bag and Other Disputed Subjects“ connects these items in Manannán's Corrbolg to the five additional letters of the Ogham known as the “forfeda.”

He writes :

“This crane-bag held every precious thing that Manannán possessed. The shirt of Manannán himself (which is the map of the sea showing lines of longitude and latitude like Eamhancholl), and his knife, and the shoulder strap of Goibniu, the fierce smith, together with his smith’s hook, (the P or hook symbol like Uillend) and the king of Scotland’s shears (the X, like Eabhadh) and the king of Lochlainn’s helmet, (with his face underneath, the four sided diamond like Oir),and the bones of Asil’s swine (the double lined X out to the side of the line like Iphin) A strip of the great whale’s back was also in that shapely crane-bag. When the sea was full, all the treasures were visible in it; when the fierce sea ebbed, the crane bag was empty.“

But if this was the case, what of the “strip of the great whale’s back?“ Surely if these items of Manannán's Corrbolg were the five forfeda, the “strip of the great whale’s back” would then make six invalidating this hypothesis. Graves, in this same essay, provides his insight into this matter as well:

“Ogham nicks make no certain sense without a stem line; and for a Sea-God the only possible stem line was the horizon-dark and slightly arched like the back of a whale.”

This hypothesis makes much sense in light of the notion that the items disappear and reappear with the rising and falling of the tide. Shall we assume that one's contents of the contemporary Druid's Corrbolg shall do the same? (I believe there is a more practical explanation of this, which we shall discuss momentarily.)

It is the author's opinion that while Graves interpretation is a plausible explanation of Manannán's Corrbolg contents (one I fully embrace in light of the fact that it is said that his Corrbolg contained "language"), just like the flexibility of Druidry, there is also a further practical application of the Corrbolg; it is to carry ones “treasures” of power, magical tools, fetishes, etc. For this is the Corrbolg known to contemporary Druidry today.

The Contemporary Druid's Corrbolg

As we see in the folklore of the origin of the Corrbolg, the contents are known as “treasures”. Manannán placed inside his Corrbolg the things that were dear to him. Furthermore, we find this very crane bag to be utilized in latter times for battle, magickal workings, etc. This gives one an indication as to the purpose of the Corrbolg. For within, the Druid places that which is sacred, practical, spiritually appealing, magickal, and powerful.

There are no hard and fast rules pertaining to what a Druid places into ones Corrbolg, nor what ones Corrbolg should even look like. In contemporary Druidry, the Corrbolg varies in size, color, and material just as much as the contents vary within for each Druid; and rightfully so. For the contemporary Druid, the Corrbolg is an expression of ones very being, a reflection of one's world view, and a microcosm of the cosmos. Let us explore these concepts in brief.

The Corrbolg as an expression of one's being

The very selection of one's Corrbolg is is a direct reflection of one's personality. For some, the use of any animal skin is unthinkable and thus an organic material which does not result in the death of the animal is chosen such as wool. For another, a synthetic material may be selected.

Some may see the utilization of an animal skin as a method of honoring the tradition of Manannán's Crane-skin bag, viewing it as a way to give meaningful and sacred purpose to the animal even after death. Both reflect an attitude of compassion in ones personality.

The color is often chosen reflecting particular symbolism to the keeper of the Corrbolg such as green for ones love of nature, or blue for ones love of the sea. Often, a color is chosen in league with one's “favorite color” bringing forth an emotional connection with the Crane-bag.

Some may choose to purchase a pre-made bag such as a haversack or messenger bag and re-purpose its use as a sacred tool of Druidry demonstrating that it is the attitude and intention that makes a thing sacred -not the item itself. This is an indication of the caring and indiscriminate nature of one's being.
Others may choose to hand make one's Corrbolg, pouring into the bag one's attention to the details it contains. This is often an indication of one who is very detail oriented.

Within, the majority of items may be of family origin (photos, mementos, locks of hair, etc) demonstrating one's deep love for family. While others Corrbolgs may contain a majority of items gifted from the wild such as stones, bones, feathers, herbs, and shells indicating one's deep love for nature. Some even contain fetished from sacred sites and other cultures.

It is easy to see the various expressions of personality that shine brightly from each Druid's Corrbolg. They vary just as much as the keepers of Corrbolgs themselves.

The Corrbolg as a Reflection of One's Worldview

The Corrbolg provides the keeper with a connection to all that is sacred to them. By choosing to engage in the utilization of the Corrbolg is to carry the physically enfleshed lore of Manannán. This choice is a direct parallel to one's mindfulness and honor of the traditions of not only Druids of past, but the Spirits of Place, the Ancestors, and the Shining ones (deities / gods and goddesses). Thus, to work with the Corrbolg is a reflection of one's world view of the old ways (whether practiced in contemporary ways or not).

Furthermore, the Corrbolg is a demonstration that one sees the sacred in all (for all it contains is seen as sacred). It aids the Druid in seeing all on equal ground, in holy oneness.

For some Druids, this view of sacredness is due to an animistic view (there is spirit in all things), and thus we honor and respect all things. For others, this notion of sacredness is due to a panentheistic worldview in that all things are within the Creator. Yet, some Druids subscribe to the pantheistic worldview that the Creator is in all, while others hold to an atheistic worldview and simply revere all out of love, for love is as sacred and holy as it gets.

The Corrbolg of each Druid varies as much as each worldview one holds (and I have not touched the tip of the many worldviews contemporary Druids subscribe to in this essay), but there is no doubt that the Corrbolg of each Druid is constructed within the worldview that one subscribes to.

The Corrbolg as a Microcosm of the Great Cosmos.

I have spoken in a previous post of how all that is within the Earth is composed of previous decomposed matter and energy that existed within the Earth. The soil contains an organic memory of every moment since its creation. It is composed of minerals (rock, sand, clay, silt), air, water, and organic material (matter from dead plants, animals, and even the first human beings to those who have passed today). Yet, an even more intimate study of the subject tells us that the entire Earth (including you and I) is composed of that which is found within the known universe. Thus, every item contained within the Corrbolg contains that which composes the universe. Therewith, it can be utilized to work astrologically, and astronomically in ones magickal workings.

Let us also take note in the mythos of the Cor-bolg. For it is said that the Cor-bolg can appear from sea to land in an instant in a form of teleportation. It is even said to travel from god to man operating in a multidimensional fashion, exploring the infinite cosmos. For the Cor-bol holds the power to allow one to explore the great cosmos.

Dedicating your Corrbolg for Use
Find a suitable spot outside that you may utilize uninterrupted preferably at “between times” such as dusk or dawn (to symbolize the in-between nature of the Corrbolg popping in and out of this world, and that of the gods). I have found it to be greatly beneficial for such a dedication to be performed in the center of a circle of trees, or in a ring of stone. This however is not a requirement. One's yard or a public park would do just fine as it is the intention, not the location that matters in the dedication.

Items required:

  • An altar cloth to cover the ground where ones items will be placed upon. It is the author's preference to utilize a large flat stone (sometimes set as a table) instead for this purpose. I personally like the earthy appeal of doing so. 
  • Honeyed-milk as a libation to the Spirits of Place. 
  • Strong drink (mead, ale, etc.) as an libation to the Shining Ones 
  • A vessel of libation such as an earthen bowl, drinking horn, or chalice set apart for such things. 
  • Symbols of the Three Worlds. A stone for Land, shell for Sea, and incense for Sky works well and are very portable. 
  • Your completed Corrbolg (does not need to have materials within). 
Preparing for the Dedication of the Corrbolg

Place the altar cloth (or altar stone) upon the ground at the center of your chosen location. Upon this, one will place the symbols of the Three Worlds in their corresponding place (Southeast for the Land item, Southwest for the Sea item, and North for the item of Sky). At the center of the triangle made by the items representing the Three Worlds, one will place the completed Corrbolg. If one works with any particular deities, a statue or photo of the deity may be placed in the center of the triangle as well.

The Dedication Begins (Centering oneself)

As your altar area will have been placed in the center of one's chosen location, so too will be where one stands. For this center is representative of the center of the entire cosmos. Close your eyes. Take in three deliberate, deep, controlled breaths. With each breath, envision the cosmos enveloping you. After the breath state the following:

I stand in the center of the Universe.” Open your eyes. 

State the following in English or Gaelic (as with all in this dedication, it is ones personal preference as to which one uses in the dedication:

“Gu robh beannachd na Diathan agus ar Sinnsearan air an àite seo.”
“May the Gods and ancestors bless this place.”

The Rite of Awen

The Rite of Awen is performed to draw in Awen (flowing and inspirational life force).

1. Raise the arms above the head, taking in a deep breath. As you lower your arms, intone the first syllable of Awen, "A" (pronounced “AAAAAAAAAAA” as in “father”. Make sure that your breath ends just as your arms hit your side.

2. Repeat this last step, except intone the syllable "W" (pronounced “WOOOOOOOOO” as in 'wool' , as you lower your arms.

3. Again, repeat this step, but intone "EN" (pronounced “EEEEEEEEENNNNNNNN” as in 'ten').

4. Finally, repeat the step, but intone all three sounds (A,W, EN) together (“AAAAWWWWEEEENNNN”) into one continuous sound and breath. Picture the rays as you create them with a mental image. The "A" is the left ray, the "W" is the middle ray, and the "EN" is the right ray.

5. Try to take in just enough breath as needed to lower your arms and end just as your arms reach your sides.

The Invocation of the Three Kindreds

“Shining Ones, with love and gratitude, I ask you join and assist me in the creation of this Corrbolg. I humbly ask you to open the gates of the Underworld allowing the Ancestors to join me and witness this sacred dedication. I ask that the Spirits of Place join me and partake in the creation of this Corrbolg!”

The Dedication and Blessing

“In times of antiquity, those who have walked the Druid path have been gifted as keepers of Manannán's Corrbolg, caretakers of its sacred treasures, and blessed to learn the sacred knowledge within. Today, having chosen to tread the path of the Druid, I shall wear my own Corrbolg bearing within my own sacred treasures to aid me in this walk.” (at this time, take your Corrbolg in hand, raising it in the air)

“Nan Diathan a tha san talamh," 
“Gods in the earth,"

"Nan Diathan a tha san neamh," 
"Gods in the sky."

"Nan Diathan a tha sa mhuir mhóir bhòcaich.” 
"Gods in the great pouring sea.” 

“Oh Shining Ones, I ask you to bless this Corrbolg and infuse it with the timeless energies of the Corrbolg of Manannán. Let it share in Nature that which Manannán's Corrbolg possesses. Just as Cumhall, Fionn mac Cumhall, and the Druids of old wore the Corrbolg of Manannán with great respect, so to shall I wear mine.”

In gratitude, pour a libation of strong drink in the four directions surrounding the altar utilizing your chosen vessel of libation.

The Closing

“Shining Ones, I thank you for your blessing upon me, and upon this Corrbolg. Go in peace with my Ancestors whom I offer my love. I thank you for your presence. Spirits of Place, Thank you for honoring me with your attendance (pour a libation of honeyed-milk in the four directions). I bid you well, go in peace.”

“Sith co Nem."
“Peace up to the heavens."

"Nem co doman." 
"Heavens down to earth."

"Doman fo nem." 
"Earth under heavens."

"Nearst hi cach.” 
"Strength in all.”

“Is é an dóiteán a chomhlánú.” 
“This ritual is complete.” 

Your Corrbolg is now ready for use. Remember, there are no hard set rules for what you place within, or when you use it. Let intuition guide you. But do keep in mind, it is an item now set apart in sacredness. After all, you just requested the blessings of the Shining Ones upon it. So let one treat it as such. For you are now responsible as a keeper of the enfleshed lore of the gods which contains the magic and healing of an Ovate, the history, lore, and arts of the Bard, and the wise nature and philosophy of the Druid. Use it wisely, and use it often. 

A Word of Respect

I would like to close this essay by taking a moment to address the modern day notion of the Corrbolg as a “medicine bag.” There is a thought by many in contemporary Druidry (and Neo-Paganism in general) that the Corrbolg is the Celtic version of the Native American “medicine bag” and thus, many teaching of the Corrbolg are centered around information provided about the medicine bag while neglecting the indications given in the Celtic people's mythologies regarding the Corrbolg.

While there are indeed similarities between the two (as well as differences), it is in the authors opinion that it is important not to disrespect the sacred traditions of the Celtic and Native peoples alike by appropriating one to another. Let us call the Crane-bag by what it is, learning from its own culture, and putting it into application from it's own traditions (let us not neglect one's own intuition). For the Corrbolg is the enfleshed lore of Manannán. Let us honor him, the traditions of the Celtic people, and sacred tools of the Druid in truth.

Manannán bhith leat air gach bealach. 
Manannán be with you in every pass.

Manannán bhith leat air gach talach. 
Manannán be with you on every hill.

Manannán bhith leat air gach strutha. 
Manannán be with you at every stream. 

1 MacNeill, Duanaire Finn: The Book of the Lays of Finn, 1908, pp118-120.